In the Bull’s Eye: In Memory of John Sheridan, Jr. 1942-2014
In mourning the substantial loss to the region that John’s passing represents, we felt it would be appropriate and appreciated by those who knew and loved him to revisit the story of his life and work as it was first published on these pages more than five years ago. This profile of former Cooper Health System CEO John Sheridan originally ran in the March 2009 issue of SNJ Business People.
The fact is that most people you talk with describe him with two words you don’t often find used in combination these days…“nice” and “smart.”
He’s the Jesuit-educated CEO and President of the Cooper Health System, John Sheridan, who dotes on his three grandchildren and has been married to his wife, Joyce, a retired school teacher, for more than 40 years.
One of the masterminds behind Cooper’s mega-million expansion in Downtown Camden, Sheridan just celebrated his first anniversary at the Cooper helm.
He’s had some big-time jobs in state government…at Transportation, in the Governor’s Office, and in the Attorney General’s Office. In fact, he’s the person who actually came up with the idea of creating the Transportation Trust Fund, an innovation hailed and copied across the nation as a dedicated source of stable funding for transportation infrastructure projects.
Sheridan served in Tom Kean’s cabinet as Commissioner of Transportation, and as Chairman of the Board of the New Jersey Transit Corporation from 1982 to 1985. Earlier in his career, he served as Deputy Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, Assistant Counsel to Governor William T. Cahill, and Counsel to the New Jersey Senate Minority.
But for a guy who’s self-described as “a hard worker, but pretty boring,” Sheridan can offer what seem, at least on the face of things, to be some pretty interesting contradictions.
A lawyer-litigator who people descibe as “a really nice guy”? A workaholic executive who disdains fiction in favor of history and self-improvement books, but admits that his favorite movie is Doctor Zhivago?
A political mover and shaker in Republican administrations who was rercuited for Cooper by one of the most powerful Democrats in the state?
A man who would invite both Richard Nixon and Harry Truman to a hypotherical dinner party to which he could invite any five people who ever lived? (The other three, by the way, would be Celtics backcourt legend Bob Cousy, Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, and Albert Einstein.)
Truman, says Sheridan, is his “favorite person historically.” In fact, Sheridan has distinct childhood memories of afternoons at 15-cent movies and watching as his friends, the sons and daughters of working class Democrats in his native Cambridge, MA booed “loudly” when Truman appeared in Movietone news reels.
With his penchant for desert-dry understatement, Sheridan muses that Truman is “now very highly regarded…(pause)…but was not at the time.”
A sometimes-litigator, Sheridan’s law practice encompassed areas like real estate and health care, but he says he really specialized in government lobbying.
He co-chaired one of the state’s premier law firms, Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti, where he was a senior partner before being recruited by Cooper’s Board chair, George Norcross to join the Cooper team in 2005.
While at Riker, Sheridan served for a number of years as General Counsel to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the Carrier Clinic, a not-for-profit psychiatric hospital in Belle Mead, NJ. He has also served on the Board of Trustees of Carrier for 25 years.
A member of Cooper Board of Trustees, Sheridan served first in the role of Senior Executive Vice President and then as Chief Administrative Officer before becoming and President and CEO in February of last year.
A graduate of St. Peter’s College and Rutgers Law School, the 66-year old Sheridan is responsible for the operations of Cooper University Hospital—including Cooper’s new $220 million, 10-story patient Pavilion—and Cooper’s more than 50 satellite offices throughout the region.
“It was the Jesuits” at St. Peter’s, he says, “who taught me how to think.”
Sheridan, who has lived in Skillman, NJ—a small town north of Princeton—since 1977, also serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Greater Camden Partnership and the Camden Special Services District.
He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals, the New Jersey Hospital Association, the Ronald McDonald House of Southern New Jersey and an Advisory Board member for the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs.
He confesses to “a lot of interest in American antiques” and says he even buys some every so often. But he likes the looking, a keen interest he shares with Joyce. And that would seem to explain the affection for “Antiques Road Show,” which he describes as his favorite television show.
But nothing rivals the enthusiasm that Sheridan demonstrates for time with his three grandchildren, Quentin, 5, Caroline, 4, and namesake John Patrick Sheridan, III, age 2.
The father of four sons, 35-year old twins Matthew and Mark, 33-year old Daniel, and 28-year old Timothy, Sheridan has no doubt about what he would do if he unexpectedly encountered a day off during which he could do anything. He would reprise his recent outing to New York City with Joyce and grand daughter Caroline to take in The Lion King.
An occasional golfer who was once decent but is now “pretty horrible,” Sheridan also enjoys family time at the family’s second home in upstate New York, near Cooperstown.
The accomplishment of which he is most proud is—no real surprise—the creation of the Transportation Trust Fund. And, as far as “do-overs” go, Sheridan professes to have very few regrets.
Twenty years from now, he sees Cooper as rivaling the hospitals “on the other side of the river in both prestige and size” and as home to both a four-year medical school and a school of nursing.
And, as for now, he says “we’re tightening our belts, but we’re going to have a good year this year…with no major adverse impact” expected as a result of the economic downturn.
If Sheridan “could be someone else,” he says—without any hesitation—that he would be Robert Moses, New York City’s legendary master builder of infrastructure. Moses, he says, was “unrivaled in terms of what a single person accomplished…since maybe the Romans.”
Which is not a bad segue to what Sheridan would write as his own epitaph, if given the opportunity: “He worked hard to make Cooper and Camden better.”